We start our new section with the exclusive interview with a famous New York dandy, a founding partner of Hand Baldachin Amburgey LLP (HBA) and a successful fashion lawyer Douglas Hand. What is it like to be a fashion lawyer and what his book "Laws of Style" is about, Douglas told in a conversation with Anna Zabrotskaya.
Douglas Hand is a fashion lawyer and founding partner of the law firm Hand Baldachin Amburgey LLP (HBA) which represents fashion and lifestyle companies such as Rag & Bone, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Rodarte, Anna Sui, Public School and Mansur Gavriel. A Southern Californian native, Hand attained his JD from NYU School of Law and his MBA from NYU Stern School of Business Administration. In 1997, he began his legal career in the New York and Paris offices of multi-national firm Shearman & Sterling, representing clients in public transactions. In 2004, Hand and his partner, Alan Baldachin, launched HBA which has over 20 legal professionals. He sits on the business advisory committee of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), on the Advisory Board of the CFDA’s Incubator and a member of the CFDA Fashion Awards Guild. Douglas is also an adjunct professor of Fashion Law at both NYU School of Law and Cardozo School of Law where he sits on the Board of Advisors for the Fashion, Arts, Media and Entertainment (FAME) Law Center. He is also on the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Foundation Board of Directors as well as FIT’s Couture Council.
Fashion Law Russia (FLR): Why fashion law? What inspired you to become a fashion lawyer?
Douglas Hand (DH): I’ve always been drawn to creative people. While our jobs as legal advisors affords us some degree of creativity, I’ve always been fascinated by artists who function in commerce the way that fashion designers do. So I think it was a love for the creative process and a desire to be around it; of service to it, if you will, that inspired me to become a fashion lawyer.
FLR: What does the working day of a fashion lawyer look like?
DH: Every day it’s something new! Fashion law really covers many areas of law that touch on the fashion industry. As a general counsel to many of my clients, I might find myself jumping from an early stage financing for an emerging brand, to a potential litigation for another brand, to an IP issue for yet another brand.
FLR: What do you like most about your fashionably legal profession?
DH: Certainly the breadth of the issues is appealing, as is the ability to work directly with designers. There are also nice perks like discounts at retail stores and attending fashion shows which can be fun.
FLR: Tell us about one of the most exciting matters\cases in your career.
DH: There are a lot of highlights. There have been a few designers involved in partnership disputes that we have helped preserve their rights to their names (where the trademark is an eponymous brand). Situations where you can really help save someone’s legacy like that are rewarding.
FLR: How and why have you decided to teach fashion law?
DH: There is a growing interest in the field and few years ago I was approached by both NYU and Cardozo concurrently to become an adjunct professor. I think adjuncts have a great perspective to offer students since, as practitioners, we can provide anecdotes that are real stories from the “fashion trenches” so to speak.
FLR: Is there any specific knowledge about the fashion industry a lawyer has to obtain before starting fashion law practice?
DH: Understanding the business of fashion is critical. It’s not so much about having a keen eye for product or an understanding of trends as much as realizing the business reality your client is in and what is important, from a legal perspective, to protect to help that business grow. So reading up on the industry (not just Vogue but publications like Business of Fashion and WWD here in the US, is essential).
Moreover, I think that there is a common misconception that if someone is a fashion lawyer that they themselves are fashionable or have to be fashionable. A fashion lawyer has to, first of all, be a great lawyer and understand the business of fashion, which does not necessarily make this lawyer “fashionable.” The business of fashion is a huge industry and a lot of it is not that appealing. If you’ve ever been to a factory that makes apparel, you’d see, it’s sometimes a grimy place (chuckle); and the people who run them are not necessarily fashionable – but they are excellent at manufacturing. So it is more about understanding a business than being esthete.
FLR: We know that you are about to release your first book “The Laws of Style”. Tell us about it.
DH: It’s not about fashion law, it is about sartorial excellence for the professional gentlemаn. We are in the midst of a cultural shift —an aesthetic inflection point—where business norms in manners of dress are changing. “Casual Friday” has given way to the full-time casual workplace. With so many sartorial options men need advice. Looking capable and elegant is what I am inspired to. Clients want you to look like a lawyer. And for a man, that certainly means to be dressed in a conservative suit, but that does not mean you can’t exhibit some personal style. You can have a natty pocket square, a nice lining to your jacket; you can have a really sophisticated style if you pay attention to certain details. The Laws of Style are just that - clear rules for sartorial presentation through the very practical viewpoint of the office reality of the service professional (lawyer, banker, accountant, consultant). And yet The Laws are so much more. This book is an exploration into spheres of self-expression with the goal of not only enhancing your career but enriching your life. Published by The American Bar Association, The Laws of Style will be released in February 2018 to come inside with New York Fashion Week: Men’s.
FLR: What could you advice to a young designer, launching his/her brand?
DH: Choose your partners wisely and properly document the early rounds of investment. I’ve seen a lot of examples of founders launching a brand, and they didn’t really paper the investments each of them made, and after a brand reached some success and the actual money started being involved, founders started to question who owned what - without a written agreement this poor documentation can actually lead to disputes. Also, don’t name your brand after yourself or your family unless you want to be faced with a difficult choice of succession, selling the company or IPO. Don’t overspend on marketing and PR and budget for accounting and legal. And don’t overexpose yourself to wholesale accounts. Direct to consumer is a safer and more rewarding path in most cases.
FLR: Is a fashion lawyer well paid in New York?
DH: Well, I would say yes. Fashion is 2 to 3 trillion dollar industry worldwide. There is a lot of money around the industry and therefore the issues that attend to it are high-stakes issues. We do M&A for fashion brands and some fashion brands are amongst the most highly valued private companies on the planet. We focus on the more emerging end, and like every firm that focuses on private companies we do very well and pay our associates relatively comparable rates to big firms.